The Role of the Laity
The Constitution on the Church devoted a whole section (Chapter 4) to the new role of the laity. The ideas of this chapter were later developed in the Vatican II Decree on the Laity and in Pope John Paul II's letter of 1989 Christifideles Laici. In these documents, a number of themes keep on recurring. Here are some of them.
All these represent a massive shift of emphasis by contrast with the Church before Vatican II. This was to be the way forward, but it was left to the post-conciliar Church to draw the map.
- Equality of the laity. In a number of places, it is repeated that the laity are to see themselves as equal in dignity with members of the hierarchy. "The chosen People of God is one . . . as members they share a common dignity from their rebirth in Christ." (Church, 32). "Everything that has been said of the People of God is addressed equally to laity, religious, and clergy" (Church 30; Xtifideles Laici 2).
- The call to the lay apostolate is from Christ himself - i.e. as distinct from just being from the hierarchy - and represents a sharing in Christ's office as Prophet, Priest, and King (Laity 3, 10; Xtifideles Laici 14, 33). "The new life through Baptism is the basis for all sharing in Christ's mission" (Xtifideles Laici 64).
- The laity exercises an apostolate with sęcular society. The apostolate of the laity is necessary and indispensable (Laity 1). Laypeople in the Church are better situated than clergy to incarnate Christian values within our everyday world (Church 31-36; Laity 7), as regards, e.g. the promotion of family values (Laity 9; Xtifideles Laici 49) and a just society (Laity 40).
- This apostolate is equally open to women and to men (Laity 9; Xtifideles Laici 49) and also to young people (Laity 12; Xtifideles Laici 46).
- The lay apostolate calls for adequate training (Laity 28-32; Xtifideles Laici 60ff.). "The formation of the lay faithful must be placed among the priorities of a diocese" (Xtifideles Laici 57).
- Individuals and groups are free to set up lay associations which promote the mission of the Church (Laity 19; Xtifideles Laici 29).
- Bishops should encourage the lay apostolate. (Laity 25)
- Priests and People must learn to work together (Church 37; Laity 3, 25; Xtifideles Laici 31).
Next: The Laity in the 1983 code